Prussian Army under the Soldier King

Early stages of Prussian Army
When the Kingdom of Prussia was officially formed in 1701, its army had already proved its strength under the command of Frederick “the Great Elector” William in the Northern War (1655-1660) against Polish-Lithuanian armies, yet it was still far from the war-machine it later became.In 1653, Frederick William formally created his first royal standing army.The army initially consisted of around 10.000 men, which gradually grew into a 30.000 strong force by the time Frederick William died in 1688.Frederick William achieved to build a solid military force during his lifetime, which after his death was beneficial to his successor in attaining the “King” title.

After the death of Frederick William, his son Frederick succeeded to the throne and a year later, led his troops to war against France with his allies Austria and Dutch Republic.After crowning himself as the first King in Prussia, thus forming Kingdom of Prussia, in 1701, Frederick I followed his father’s traces and kept growing his army to 40.000 men until his death in 1713.

The Soldier King
Frederick I was succeeded by his son Frederick William I in 1713.Frederick William was very different from his father in that, after his succession, he expelled his father’s artists and civic advisors from his court and appointed military officers in some of the government positions.From a young age, he showed deep obsession to military and spent his life concerning himself with military affairs.His main focus was the infantry, he was so impressed by tall soldiers that he made a special guard unit consisting only of soldiers taller than 1.88 meters (6 feet 2 inches).His obsessive focus on infantry caused him to neglect the cavalry in the army, which showed its weaknesses during the reign of his son.

In the sense of his interest in military, he was lucky to have Leopold I of Anhalt as a General in his army.Leopold was appointed as a general by his father years ago and he had made a fame for himself during the War of Spanish Succession (1710-1714).In 1715, Frederick William, with Leopold by his side, led his army to western Pomerania as a part of coalition against Sweden.He successfully defeated Swedish army and in Treaty of Stockholm (1719), Sweden ceded all of its territories in Pomerania to Kingdom of Prussia. Gaining some war experience, Frederick William started conducting various military reforms with the help of his friend and general, Leopold.Attributed to Leopold, these reforms included the following:

⦁ Standardization of military equipment and uniforms.
⦁ Invention and adoption of an iron ramrod instead of a wooden one, increasing the firepower of Prussian artillery.
⦁ Invention and adoption of “goose-step” marching style.
⦁ Regular and frequent drilling with firearms, which resulted in an unusually high fire-rate compared to other European armies at the time.
⦁ Even stricter punishments for rule-breakers and deserters.
⦁ Regulations in the sizes of battalions.
⦁ Introduction of Prussian aristocracy into officer ranks in the army.
⦁ Adoption of Canton System as the recruitment system.According to this system, country was divided into regions called cantons, and each canton was bound to have a regiment.Every youth was obliged to serve in the regiment within the canton they lived in.

Reforms of Frederick William I ensured Prussian army to be one of the greatest armies in Europe at the time not only quality wise, but quantity wise as well. He managed to double the size of the army he took over from his father.In 1740, Prussia had an army of 80.000 well-trained,well-equipped and disciplined men. Prussia had around four percent of its population under military service and had seventy percent of the state budget used as military budget, which was uncanny compared to other countries.Frederick William died in 1740, leaving behind a formidable army to his successor, his son Frederick.Frederick William later became known as “the Soldier King” due to his obsession with military and his impact on developing the phenomenon of Prussian militarism.


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